Each month, the Austin Young Chamber will highlight a member who is doing extraordinary work to strengthen our businesses, our community…or both! Showcasing their achievements is just one way we can put a spotlight on the talented, collaborative, and community-focused workforce we have here in Central Texas.
This month we’re highlighting Becky Calahan – a Young Chamber Member, Civic Affairs Committee Chair and a Director at Philanthropy Advocates. Read on to learn more about Becky’s involvement with education and advocacy, how she believes young professionals can affect change in our education system, and how others can get involved.
Austin Young Chamber: How did you first become involved with Philanthropy Advocates?
Becky: When I was a graduate student at The Bush School of Public Service & Administration at Texas A&M I worked at a local foundation, the Greater Texas Foundation. That’s where I learned about the impact of private philanthropy in our day to day lives. It was there that I learned about Philanthropy Advocates. Then, a few years later while I was working in the Texas Capitol for a state representative I reconnected with Philanthropy Advocates and eventually transitioned over to work for the funders collaborative.
Austin Young Chamber: Where have you seen the greatest growth and opportunity for your business in the Austin community?
Herbert: I’m so thankful we have finally turned the corner on COVID, and we can finally go back to being out and about bringing photo booth memories to our event guests and clients. Post-pandemic, the biggest growth for my business has been in the corporate and non-profit sectors.
Austin Young Chamber: What are some of the greatest issues facing our education system in the Austin area?
Becky: Student achievement has declined greatly in the last couple of years, largely due to the pandemic. In the Austin region (Education Service Center Region 13), 3rd grade reading scores declined 5 percent in the overall region from 49% meeting grade level in 2019 to 44% in 2021. The decline is most predominant for students of color and economically disadvantaged students. We see these same trends in 3rd grade numeracy rates. So, we’re talking about if our students are able to read and do math at an early age, and not even half of our students can. This is a major issue facing the Austin area and also the whole state.
There’s a lot of factors that go into student achievement. Access to high quality early learning like child care then full day pre-k are important. School safety and student and educator mental health are important and continue to be issues that educators, families and our communities face. Making sure teachers feel supported and have access to rigorous preparation before becoming teachers are major issues right now as we see data indicating 77% of teachers polled in the Charles Butt Foundation poll said they have looked to leave the classroom.
All of these factors lead up to whether students transition from high school into some sort of postsecondary education path that will increase their lifetime earnings. Every high school graduate who goes on to complete a postsecondary credential increases their lifetime earnings by up to $1 million. Yet, only 32% of Texas high school graduates earn a postsecondary credential within six years of graduating. In the Austin region, only 50% of students eligible for postsecondary enrollment do enroll.
Austin Young Chamber: How does Philanthropy Advocates (and you!) work to address these issues?
Becky: My job as Director of Philanthropy Advocates is to support our members, over 55 foundations and United Ways across Texas, to harness their resources and expertise for systems change through state policy and advocacy. Philanthropy Advocates prioritizes access to high quality early learning, effective teaching and pathways for students to earn meaningful credentials for college and career opportunities. Where the individual members of Philanthropy Advocates gives private dollars to community based organizations to support programs and research aligned to these issues, we all come together to advocate for state policies that will further support systems change for all Texas students to benefit from outstanding educational opportunities.
Our work includes research, advocacy, partnership with other organizations and voices, ultimately to inform state policymakers on opportunities to make policies work better for individual school districts and higher education institutions that lead to results for students.
Austin Young Chamber: What can young professionals do to effect change in our education system?
Becky: Young professionals have several opportunities to ensure our education systems are strong – from cradle to career. I encourage individuals to read up on the Austin ISD bond package and the Austin Community College bond packages that we have the opportunity to vote on this fall. Then vote — if there’s any one thing I could encourage people to do is to inform yourself on our local issues and then vote. What happens in cities and counties truly proliferates across Texas – so it’s important to weigh in on what happens right here.
Additionally, everyone has something to give – whether that’s time, expertise or money. Many organizations in Central Texas are doing great work to continue to improve our education systems. If you want to donate your resources or your time, please reach out to me so I can help you identify where those resources may be highest impact for you and for our community. Also, AYC members are welcome to join our AYC Civic Affairs Committee to be on the forefront of these discussions.
Austin Young Chamber: Is there anything else we should know about Philanthropy Advocates and how others can get involved?
Becky: Philanthropy Advocates is on social media (@TX_philanthropy). We share a lot of information related to what’s going on in the state Capitol and try to uplift our members and partners in our collective advocacy. If you’re wondering who to follow to learn more about today’s education issues, I’d say start there and then keep hitting follow to the voices we uplift.